This Article is From Jun 22, 2011

Will Sonia Gandhi review CBI's exemption from RTI?

New Delhi: Will Sonia Gandhi intervene to reverse the cabinet's decision that the Right to Information Act should not apply to the CBI?  " I am enraged...I will take the matter up with the chairperson of the UPA," said Aruna Roy, member of the National Advisory Council, an advisory body headed by Sonia Gandhi which influences government policy.

On Saturday, the cabinet agreed with the CBI which petitioned that it handles "the investigations of several politically sensitive cases which have inter-state and international ramifications." 

The rationale is that the CBI's inquiries should remain off-limits to the public because the agency handles many cases related to national security, explained V Narayan Swamy, Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office. But the proposed exemption for the CBI comes at a time when the government is being accused of not being transparent enough. Activists are enraged, for example, with the government's version of the Lokpal  Bill, meant to tackle corruption among politicians and bureaucrats.

The CBI has been pushing since February for exemption from the RTI, partly on the grounds that it handles cases that often involve influential people  - like the telecom scam, which has landed a former senior minister, A Raja, in jail.  A man accused of paying Mr Raja a multi-crore kickback, Shahid Balwa, attempted to use the RTI to get information on the CBI's inquiry against Mr Raja and himself.

Wajahat Habibullaha, the former Chief Information Commissioner, the office that administers the RTI, said "I have written to the PM, suggesting that this is not a wise decision...the Cbi is supposed to expose corruption and bring transparency, it should not be exempt from RTI."

It's not yet clear if Sonia Gandhi will take a stand contrary to the cabinet's. The Right to Information act is seen as a landmark achievement of the UPA - on two earlier occasions, Mrs Gandhi opposed moves that would have diluted the Act -moves that the Prime Minister had endorsed. In those cases, Mrs Gandhi's will had prevailed.